COLORADO SPRINGS — Many homeowners in Colorado Springs pay HOA dues.
This money often pays for amenities like common area lawn services, trash and snow removal.
When a group of homeowners found out trash and lawn care services were suspended within weeks of each other, our News 5 Investigates team was asked to look into where their money is going.
Homeowners in the Cherokee Park HOA community near Powers and Constitution pay more than $1,500 a year in HOA dues.
Neighbors now want answers, transparency and accountability.
"I pay my dues on time and it's not fair that they aren't taking care of the property like they have before," one homeowner told News 5. "I want to know where my money is going."
There are 80 homes in the complex.
Considering every homeowner pays $129 a month in HOA dues, that's $1,548 a year---or $123,840 annually for the entire complex.
A review of the HOA's finances from January to the end of May of this year show the HOA is in the red, spending more than they budgeted.
Records show the HOA budgeted $46,265 for expenses, but spent $47,831, a difference of $1,556.
This figure only scratches the surface---and there are many unanswered questions with no apparent solutions.
News 5 reviewed the HOA's annual budget and found they budgeted $17,325 for lawn services in 2021 and another $10,500 for trash. Midway through the year, those services are being discontinued---at least for the time being.
"Now we have to pay for our own trash which for 20 years, they've taken care of it," a homeowner said. "The yard hasn't been mowed in months--at least months."
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross responded, "This side of the lawn looks like it has been mowed recently but this other side looks like a mess. Why is that?"
"A neighbor who lives here mowed the lawn Saturday," the homeowner said. "I don't have a lawn mower but if I have to rent one or buy one, I will so I can have my lawn look nice."
News 5 Investigates learned the Cherokee Park HOA community is managed by Z & R Management.
According to HOA records, Z & R Management receives $17,280 a year for their services.
Darren Burns, President and Managing Broken for Z & R said his company is involved in the budgeting process and provides recommendations to the HOA Board, but told us all final budget and contract decisions are made by the HOA Board, not his company.
"The biggest problem the Association has always faced is its own governing documents," Burns said in an email to News 5. "The Association's Covenants, drafted decades ago, contain a provision that restricts the Board from being able to adjust the dues level to keep up with the rising costs of living. They are restricted by the CPI, which at least in Colorado Springs has no relation to the actual increases of costs for goods and services. Insurance along the front range has been a budget killer all over town and they are no exception. So, their current dues level is well below where we believe it should be, despite the Board doing the CPI increases. This has resulted in a slow bleeding of funds over time from the reserves to cover costs that were not planned such as an insurance claim still in dispute, extensive extra costs in trash (illegal dumping by renters or off-site trespassers), and overruns on snow removal ($8,000 this year alone) and water. This has not been a sudden occurrence. We have been working for years to try to keep the bills paid while the costs of nearly everything have far outpaced the dues."
Burns said his company has recommended the HOA amend its covenants to allow for more aggressive budgeting.
"That recommendation was not approved or pursued," Burns said.
Burns also said there is about $19,000 in unpaid dues, late fees, interest and legal fees which have not been collected.
"Even when it has gone up (HOA dues), they've shoveled the snow, done the trash, taken care of the laws, done paving in the back and painted," a homeowner said. "We haven't had a paint job in 10 years. Things are peeling. Things are broken."
News 5 first reached out to Z & R Management on June 16 about concerns within the HOA community.
The very next day, Burns responded to our questions and also informed us that his management company was cutting ties with the HOA community.
"As a result of what I consider to be irreconcilable differences about what is best for the Community and the best way to properly manage the current situation, I tendered the Board a 30-day notice that I am terminating our contract with Cherokee Park effective July 17th."
The HOA Board:
The Cherokee Park HOA is made up of 4 members---a Director, President, Vice President and Secretary.
News 5 first contacted the HOA's Director, Bragan Washburn through certified mail and a phone call.
In a voice mail, Washburn said she was new to the board and encouraged us to talk with someone else.
However, News 5 Investigates learned Washburn was one of three board members who voted to cancel trash pickup in the neighborhood at last month's HOA meeting.
A follow up phone call to Washburn was not returned.
Since the HOA President was absent during the trash pickup cancellation vote, News 5 reached out to the Vice President, Eugenia Griffin.
When Griffin did not respond to our certified letter seeking comment, we showed up on her doorstep to ask questions. We were told she wasn't home at the time and left another business card.
Griffin has not responded to our inquiries.
It's exactly this type of "silence" that causes homeowners to raise questions about the HOA's financial transparency.
"Where are my fees going to because now you have no money to take care of our properties and if you want me to take care of it, why do you want me to pay fees?"
Homeowners living in any HOA-regulated community have a right to see financial expenditure reports and attend HOA board meetings. If your HOA has refused to allow you to see financial records or has not publicly informed its residents about upcoming board meetings, let our investigative team know: News5Investigates@KOAA.com
An HOA management company or HOA board should be able to provide homeowners with expense reports, budgets, meeting minutes and meeting agendas upon request.
More information on the Cherokee Park HOA can be found here.
You can read Z & R's response to our questions here.